It's time to stop using the word 'urban' to describe music made by black artists

Ella Alexander
Photo credit: Cecilie_Arcurs - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

Republic Records has pledged to stop using the word 'urban' to describe music made by black artists. The label, one of the most powerful in the US, counts Drake, The Weeknd and Ariana Grande among its roster.

The term is often considered to be a lazy generalisation used to describe work by black musicians, which spans numerous genres, sounds and influences, from R&B and reggae to hi-hop and rap.

Republic Records made the announcement on Instagram, urging "the rest of the music industry to follow suit as it is important to shape the future of what we want it to look like, not adhere to the outdated structures of the past".

"'Urban' is rooted in the historical evolution of terms that sought to define black music," a statement from Republic Records said.

"As with a lot of our history, the original connotation of the term urban was not deemed negative. However, over time the meaning and connotations of 'urban' have shifted and it developed into a generalisation of black people in many sectors of the music industry, including employees and music by black artists.

"While this change will not and does not affect any of our staff structurally, it will remove the use of this antiquated term."

LA-based music management company Milk & Honey has also said it will "eliminate" the "outdated" word, "which has no place in 2020 onwards".

The term originated in the mid-1970s when black New York radio DJ Frankie Crocker used the phrase "urban contemporary" to describe eclectic mix of songs that he played. At the time, it wasn't negative, but as time went on, the word became an overly general way of lumping together music by all black artists without taking into account different genres or sounds, thus marginalising it.

"'Urban' is a lazy, inaccurate generalisation of several culturally rich art forms," radio presenter DJ Semtex told the magazine Music Business UK in 2018.

"I despise the word," he added. "I know artists that do hip-hop, grime, or rap. I don't know anyone that does urban music."

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